The Kevin Hart problem

Comedian Kevin Hart was tapped to host the 2019 Academy Awards and then it was discovered that he had made homophobic tweets about a decade ago. When asked about them he said that all that was in the past and that people should not be held accountable for what they said a long time ago and that he has grown since then. He refused to apologize for them. But that did not end the controversy and the Academy asked him to apologize or that he would be replaced. He still refused to apologize but then issued a statement saying that he was withdrawing from the event and also issued an apology of a sort.

We are all always evolving in our views. Hopefully it is for the better. But part of the growth process is to honestly look at our past and acknowledge that at one time it was part of us and if it does not conform to our standards now, then to apologize for our past words and actions and commit to doing better in the future. To demand that the past should be ignored altogether and get angry when it is brought up is not acceptable and why Hart should have thought that he was exempt from this basic element of the act of contrition is mystifying.

Meanwhile another comedian Ricky Gervais is not covering himself with glory on this issue either, taking a similar tack that being a comedian means never having to say that you are sorry.

I used to like Gervais a lot at one time but he is well on the way to becoming a tiresome crank, milking contrarianism to the fullest, joining Bill Maher, Jerry Seinfeld, and Chris Rock in whining about being criticized for homophobic and sexist humor and that they should be free of the expectation that any decent person, and that includes comedians, should always punch up and not punch down.

Hart, Gervais, and the others could learn a lot from another comedian Sarah Silverman’s reflections on her past behavior.

“Certainly stuff that I did 10 or 15 years ago, I cringe at now,” she continues, “but I think that’s OK. I had really racial stuff that, in my mind, at that time, was illuminating racism and starting a conversation. Now I see it very differently, like: ‘Oh, right. Unarmed black teenagers are getting killed by cops daily. This joke is less funny to me.’ Or I used to say [adopts masculine Boston accent]: ‘That’s so gay.’ And then I would defend it by going: ‘What? I have gay friends! It’s totally different. I just mean ‘lame’. And as I was arguing it, I realised: ‘Oh. I’m the old man who says ‘coloured’ … ‘I have coloured friends!’”

Part of that, she observes, is the internet making the world smaller. She says she likes to have her mind changed, which is something your rarely hear anyone say. “I think, as a comedian, if you’re not changing with the times – not just second-guessing what the kids want to hear but growing and changing as a human being, living an examined life – that will reflect in your comedy. You’ll lose fans and you’ll gain fans. That’s not up to me, but I just try to stay within what I think is cool and funny and interesting. If you can’t change with the times, you’re fucking old.”


  1. says

    One of his tweets was only seven years ago. Yes, people can change in seven years, but I’m curious what made this adult man evolve on the subject in the seven years since he was an adult man who said what he did.

  2. deepak shetty says

    Ricky Gervais is not covering himself with glory

    Yeah.. right from the time of his defense of the C word (we’re British! you only here it when you are being one!) he has shown that he falls more in the Maher category of people. Egoistic cranks who dont really care much about right and wrong.

  3. Jazzlet says

    Gervais was iffy a decade and more ago, he’s long gone past iffy into unacceptable, precisely because of that insistence that he be allowed to say anything under the guise of humour.

  4. lanir says

    I’m only vaguely familiar with any of these people. I don’t do pure comedy that often. But humor is a very complicated subject. Sometimes you really can bring up awful ideas in the service of ridiculing them and there are times and societal moods that benefit from that. The exact same thing a few years later can just be a harsh reminder of bad things.

    Either way, if you think you’re going to defend yourself without just plain admitting that you’re talking about awful ideas you’ve missed the point. Society needs that about as much as it needs a choir of tone-deaf people. And a comedian who doesn’t understand that is just as lacking in a required job skill as one of those theoretical tone-deaf choir members.

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